Park County Commissioner Jake Fulkerson was recently named to the PAVE task force, but you won’t see him on pothole patrol on the road to Meeteetse.
Instead, members of the Plan for Aging Voting Equipment group are in the business of paving the way to financing future elections in the Cowboy State.
Established Nov. 13, PAVE includes representatives from the Wyoming Secretary of State’s Office, legislators from the Wyoming House and Senate, envoys from the county clerks, and Fulkerson, representing county commissioners statewide.
Others in the task force include ex-officio members Secretary of State Ed Murray, and the co-chairs of the Wyoming Legislature’s Joint Corporations, Elections and Political Subdivisions Committee, Sen. Cale Case and Rep. Dan Zwonitzer.
Along with Zwonitzer and Case on the legislative side are Sen. Tara Nethercott and Rep. Bob Nicholas, both from districts in and around Cheyenne.
County clerks, charged with running elections statewide, are represented by Sherry Daigle, of Teton County, and Sublette County’s Mary Lankford.
State election director Kai Schon, deputy Secretary of State Karen Wheeler and Secretary of State technology director Andrea Bryne fill-out the 11 person task force, representing the Secretary of State’s Office.
The task the force seeks to tackle is substantial.
With the state’s election equipment last replaced, with the help of substantial federal funding in the mid-2000’s, the time has come to update and replace voting machines, but it’s unclear where the money will come from.
The costs are certain to run into the millions of dollars statewide, county clerks say, though a firm figure has yet to come clear.
While calling Wyoming’s elections “accurate, fair and free of any interference,” Daigle said in a statement last month that equipment “is nearing the end of its lifespan, and it is of paramount importance that our voting systems be unfailingly reliable.”
Members of PAVE represent groups that will have to deal with the replacement of that aging infrastructure, with clerks running elections, the secretary of state certifying results and legislators and county commissioners perhaps charged with the most difficult job of all: funding the democratic process.
“This year [the process] is more in the information-gathering phase to kind of set the stage – there will be a bill next year,” Fulkerson told the other commissioners in November.
In 2018, Fulkerson said he will be able to attend most PAVE meetings by phone, but he expects the pace to pick up.
“In ’19 it will ramp up and should be a big deal,” he said.
After the meeting, Fulkerson called the problem of finding resources to replace machines an urgent one, and he expressed interest in the savings clerks say could be realized by switching to mail-ballot procedures.
Some legislators had expressed concerns over fraudulent mail ballots, Fulkerson said, but he and most clerks did not find those claims credible, he continued.
Park County has reserve funds and other pots to dip into to potentially finance new equipment, Fulkerson said, but he worried smaller less populous parts of the state could struggle to buy new machines.
In a November statement, Murray called the ability to conduct secure elections, “a matter of state sovereignty.”